Queen Magdalena died four days later, on Mara’s eighteenth birthday. Mara stayed in her room after the funeral, leaving only to search in her mother’s closet, as if driven by some strange compulsion she could not name. A black veil obscured her features as she searched among the dresses and stacked boxes, arranged in tottering piles. At the bottom of the last stack she discovered an inlaid box, with the flying fish of Aratis embossed onto the lid. Underneath it was her mother’s name. It was locked.
Mara ran for her room, the box tucked under her arm, a flitting black shadow in the golden halls of Llira.
When Mara got to her room, she sent everyone else out and locked the door. She rummaged in her sewing box and found a pin. She took a seat on her bed, and set the box down, driving the pin into the latch. The lid eased open, hinges squealing.
The inside was lined with red velvet. A small book lay on one side, its pages yellow with age, its leather cover embossed with designs of leaping fish. Next to it lay a hank of fluffy white wool. Mara stroked it softly, as if she marveled at the texture.
But the wool was twined around something she had never seen before.
It was a polished stick of wood, a disc set a little way from one pointed end. It was wound about with delicate wool yarn.
“Llirans don’t spin,” whispered Mara to herself. “Mother must have brought it from her home.” She held the spindle in one hand, thinking of the island where her mother had come from, the island where her father had died—the one she had never met.
“I wonder why she kept this spindle. Why did she hide it?” said Mara, not letting it go. With one glance at the book, she set the open box carefully on the floor. Holding the spindle in one hand, she climbed into bed. If anyone gets in the door, I’ll pretend to be asleep.
Mara lay back on her pillows, holding the spindle. She ran her fingers down the polished shaft, and around the disc. Softly, her hand felt below the disc, down to the point.
Her finger slipped, and she winced as the point pierced her fingertip. She fell into sleep, the spindle falling from her outstretched hand.
At that moment, everyone else in Llira fell asleep as well, from Heinrich on his throne to the beggar girl in the street. Merchants fell asleep at their tables, soldiers at their posts, seamen at their ships, ladies at their sewing. The city fell into an eerie silence. The horses slept in their stalls, the cats on the doorsteps, Mara’s pet elephants on their rug by the fire. The city of Llira shuddered loose from the seabed, and drifted away.
Walls of mists and storm sprang up, veiling the city from all eyes. A sea serpent slithered up from the deeps. Illusions lay in waiting for the one who would wake them.
And so it has been, for a hundred years.